There are standard Christmas albums (you know, the kind Michael Bublé sustains his career on) and then there is the Pet Shop Boys’ 2009 EP, Christmas. Because Neil Tennant and Chris Lowe have never been ones for doing anything with even so much as a tinge of the ordinary involved, they aren’t here to give you cheesy staples like “I’ll Be Home For Christmas” or now allegedly rapey “Baby, It’s Cold Outside,” instead opting to open the short but sweet record with “It Doesn’t Often Snow at Christmas,” an exclusive fan club single from 1997 dusted off for everyone’s enjoyment in 2009.
Rather than sugar coating the nature of the holiday season, Tennant touts, “Christmas is not all it’s cracked up to be/Families fighting around a plastic tree/Nothing on the TV that you’d want to see/And it’s hardly ever snowing/The way it’s meant to be.” This goes double in the U.S. At least they have their British winter wonderland looQ to get them past the blatant materialism and no longer homemade cuisine. Granted, Americans aren’t exactly partial to mince pie anyway.
Adding further festiveness to the tone of the tidy five-track EP, a Christmas-ified version of “All Over the World” (originally on 2009’s Yes) follows–this time produced by Marius de Vries, best known for his work with The Sugarcubes and Björk. A bombastic trumpet-laden intro lends that neo-“Twelve Days of Christmas” feel for a timeless sound that Pet Shop Boys rarely succumb to (they’re usually more about adhering to the musical trends of their own inner headspace of the moment).
Then there’s the majestic cover of Madness’ “My Girl,” which, to some, might not make sense on a Christmas-themed album. Yet, what could be more common to the holiday season than a little tiff with a significant other? Dark and dramatic, Tennant begins by semi-muttering, “Oh my girl, my girl,” which sounds more like “Oh my god, my god” as moody synthesizers punctuate Tennant admitting, “My girl’s mad at me/I didn’t want to see the film tonight.”
Another seeming curveball song choice for the EP is their version of Coldplay’s “Viva la Vida” paired with “Domino Dancing.” The most dance-infused of all the songs on Christmas, this cover melded with one of their most loved hits makes some sense when considering that the lyric “watch them all fall down” paired with “I used to rule the world” works rather well for 2016 in particular when taking into account the results of the U.S. election.
The Our House remix of “My Girl” sounds even more like a lost track to the Twin Peaks soundtrack than the original, capping off Pet Shop Boys’ take on the holidays with the perfect amount of drama and gravity. Ultimately, however, the primary purpose of this brief yet pithy addition to the Christmas music annals goes back to “It Doesn’t Often Snow at Christmas,” expressing, “The Christmas message was long ago lost/Now it’s all about shopping, and how much things cost.” Pet Shop Boys may have sorrowfully accepted this fact, but it doesn’t mean they’re going to let their faithful fans do the same.